The Novena of Grace, March 4-12 each year, in honour of St Francis Xavier, still attracts. Up to 1,900 people attended three daily sessions in Gardiner St church. The numbers attending the 5.30 and 7.30 sessions were higher than before with a greater sprinkling of young people. Some were on their first novena, others on their eighty-fifth! Mostly a north city event, and now on its 298th consecutive year in inner-city Dublin, people came also from other parts of Dublin and Ireland. The preacher, John Guiney SJ of the Mission Office, spoke simply and sincerely of St Francis Xavier and of Africa and linked much of this to both his own life and life today. Music with organists and cantors enhanced the ceremony; and an attempt was made to introduce some new music, especially at the evening sessions. The novena combines the best of traditional format with contemporary content.
NOVENA OF GRACE
It raises some pastoral questions. Why do almost 2,000 people come for nine days to this rather traditional devotion? They would see it as a sort of Lenten retreat, a way of getting in touch with their faith and their needs. They like the homily, the décor of the church especially when lit with tiny red candles in the darkness; they like the guided prayer at the end. They are hungry for a positive spirituality and open to the Ignatian journey of prayer – being loved, being called, being challenged, being sent. They want to bring their needs to God and the needs of their families, so the reading of petitions still plays a relevant role in the sessions. They are for the most part highly committed people in their faith and in their localities. They are also a generous people: over €19,000 was collected on one day for the CINDI project for Aids Orphans in Zambia.
This year a group of Belvedere College 5th years came with their teacher, Helen Barden, to one of the Masses. One wrote as follows:
The Novena Of Grace is a annual event dedicated to our own St Francis Xavier and is celebrated all over the world. Our most local celebration was in Gardiner Street Church and has been going on there every year since the church was opened in 1832. Today some of us Belvederians had the honour of going down to the church for the so-called ‘super mass,’ which happened around midday on March 5th.
The Church was packed as if it was Christmas Eve the preacher was introduced as Father Guiney. Mass unfolded as usual but with much greater energy than that of your average Sunday morning. Many people were not lucky enough to find a seat and were instead found standing in all corners of the church as the congregation united in song on several occasions. Most notably for me, when the psalm was our own ‘Only in God’.
Father Guiney, a priest who had his fair share of travels, shared with us some of his stories during the homily, and later, after communion, we were led in silence into one of the key moments of the Novena. A period of silence for the whole church, (a bit like meditation) for a few moments of quiet prayer.
The Novena happens in Spring every year for a period from March 4th to the 12th. The amount of energy and devotion given by the congregation in particular was something I would not have usually expected. We sounded more like a full on choir than a regular, more silent, congregations. Some people who attended this Mass have been coming to the same event in the same church for over sixty years. Something which I think brings out the importance it has on the lives of many people throughout the city. I think a visit to Gardiner Street during early March would definitely be worth the journey.
The novena continued a bit into the next morning when Morning Ireland featured a vox pop about the reasons people might come. Fr Donal Neary spoke briefly after a lively recording of the Francis Xavier hymn.
See you next year! Our preacher then will be Fr Joe Keaney SJ of St Ignatius, Lusaka, Zambia.